South Korea 6 – Andong – Bows & Swords – 11/2014

April 15, 2015

A light dusting of snow left no doubt that winter was on the way. Our Espar Airtronic heater kept the camper warm and toasty. We waved goodbye to the mask carvings outside Hahoe Village and proceeded to the nearby city of Andong to visit the Andong Folk Museum to learn more about the region’s unique traditional and cultural history. We found a fabulous collection of over 7000 artifacts and several displays with life-size figures that really gave us a great feeling of how people dressed as they performed the tasks of their traditional lives such as funeral rites and weddings.

Adjacent to the parking lot for the museum there was another display of old traditional homes. When the Andong Dam was created in 1976, the resulting lake would have submerged many cultural relics. Instead of leaving them to an underwater grave, the buildings and historical artifacts were moved to the museum’s outdoor space to create a park and the Andong Folk Village. Unlike the Folk Village of Hahoe, these homes were just on display. No one lived in them.

Korea Blog 6 59Walking back to the parking lot where we had camped for the night, we stopped to watch a gentleman practicing his archery. After letting us try a few shots ourselves with the unique Korean bow, strung a little lighter for tourists, Nam Hee-Jong demonstrated how easy it was to hit the bull’s-eye every time.

We learned that there are three main kinds of bows used in archery in the United States and Europe: the re-curve bow, the compound bow, and the straight bow. To these we can add the Yechon bow of Korea. The keratin bows made in Yechon have long been standard for hunting, archery, and we might presume, for battle. Unlike most present bows that are made of wood and fiberglass, the artisans in Yechon during the Joseon Dynasty developed advanced techniques to make bows from a combination of wood, animal horns and tendons. In the final stage, the craftsmen grafted the bow with the thin inner bark of the white cherry tree. The core of the bow consists of several layers of wood and horn that have been laminated. Fish air bladders were used as glue. Three kinds of wood, (bamboo, oak, mulberry), and cattle tendons were produced locally. Water buffalo horns were imported.

Korea Blog 6 38In talking with Nam Hee-Jong we discovered that he was a member of the Traditional Military Honor Guard who protects the president and performs official duties. This sector of the Korean military practices four disciplines: bow & arrow, various swords, fist & kick and riding horses. He offered to show us some of his talents. The swords he twirled as he leaped and danced in the demonstration courtyard were razor sharp.

Faster than the eye could even follow, he sliced off sections of very tough 2” bamboo, spinning around to whisk off a second or third piece. We could easily imagine that in a real battle these swords could lop off a man’s arm or head in an instant. He also demonstrated a different kind of blade called a “pole weapon”. It too was as sharp as a razor but weighing some 20 pounds. We watched as he impressively twirled around, clipping off pieces of the bamboo, sometimes catching the cut sections in midair and slicing them in half again.

As an Asian dawn spread across the sky we strolled over the Wolryeong (Moonshine) Bridge, the longest wooded bridge in Korea. Back on the modern highways we were still adjusting to the polite drivers and European-style tunnels and tollgates. Only the occasional memorial grave markers near villages where neat rice fields spread out toward a blue East Sea (Sea of Japan) and the bilingual road signs reminded us where we were. Passing a Starbucks or a Baskin Robbins ice-cream parlor would bring a smile, but no feeling of homesickness. While South Korea boasts the highest Internet speed in the world, some of their wiring did make us wonder.

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